With Gulf of Mexico shrimp landings more than 30 percent below their historical average for most of 2019, prices for larger shrimp were a bit higher than the previous year, but lower for the smaller sizes. Industry experts expect those trends to continue in 2020.

Gulf shrimp landings reported by NMFS for January through October 2019 were about 69.2 million pounds — way down from the average of nearly 100 million pounds landed from 2002-18. Ex-vessel prices for the largest product (U15) averaged about $9.50 per pound, headless/shell on. For 20-30 count, the price was $2.71; for 41-50, just under $2.

John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance — a trade industry group based in Tarpon Springs, Fla. — blamed lower production on the persistent “dead zone” in the gulf from flooding rains in the Mississippi River region and some fishermen’s reluctance to fish amid low prices stemming from cheaper foreign imports.

“We’re getting swamped with illegal imports,” Williams said. “Law enforcement is overwhelmed. They are trying, but they are lacking resources to step up enforcement of illegal imports.”

Williams said some foreign companies are using forced labor to keep production costs down. They also treat the shrimp with antibiotics and other chemicals that end up being rejected by European Union countries and then dumped here in the United States, where regulatory agencies can’t keep up with inspections, he said.

In 2020, Williams said, “I think we’ll see more of the same until something can be done. When you have a country or countries where shrimp production is being done illegally, it forces other companies playing by the books to do the same thing just to stay in business.”

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Sue Cocking spent more than 20 years as the outdoors writer at the Miami Herald, covering everything from commercial and recreational fishing to powerboat racing and scuba diving. She once worked as a light-tackle charter boat fishing captain in Key West and had an 18-year career in radio news broadcasting. She lives in Sebastian, Fla.

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